Amelia Earhart and Fashion

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Amelia Earhart was a tenacious aviatrix who disappeared 75 years ago this week while attempting to circumnavigate the world in her airplane.   The University of Hawaii and the Discovery Channel are mounting a 26-day expedition to the place many believe Earhart’s plane went down, in hopes they’ll finally put to rest the rumors about what happened to Earhart.  Everything about this expedition and the personality of this intrepid lady-adventurer appeals to me.  The bold flight attempt, the resulting mystery surrounding her disappearance, 1930’s pop culture, a visionary woman, and the fashion line….

That’s right, Amelia had a fashion line!  I never knew!  She loved well-tailored clothing and learned to sew as a young woman working as a social worker.  She couldn’t afford the kind of clothes she liked to wear, so like many women then (and now!) she stitched them herself.

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She later lent her aesthetic sense to create the “Amelia Earhart” line for Macy’s in New York (and also sold at several other department stores across the country).  It’s unclear whether she actually designed the clothing, but she did work on sewing the samples (herself!).  The line adhered to her ideas about how to dress a woman well and sensibly:

  • use of practical, durable fabric like Grenfell cotton and parachute silk
  • washable
  • her line sold “separates,” which wasn’t done at the time.  Amelia thought a woman should be able to buy a jacket for one size on top and another for the skirt.
  • “She added shirt tails to women’s shirts.  The shirt length of the Amelia Earhart shirt was designed to be longer than shirt tails of women’s shirts at the time. She was annoyed that shirt tails were often not cut long enough, so that when a woman bent over or moved, the shirt shifted and became “untucked” revealing exposed skin.  Amelia said,    ” I made up my mind that if the wearers of the shirts I designed for any reason took time out to stand on their heads, there would still be enough shirt to stay tucked in.””  Huff Post, quote. 
  • Amelia drew on her love of flying and aviation for whimsical and stylish additions to her collections, delighting to include “something characteristic of aviation, a parachute cord or tie or belt, a ball bearing belt buckle, wing bolts and nuts for buttons.”

I like the longer shirt tails the best- I guess Amelia didn’t want to go showing off her muffin tops.  (Well, ok, she probably didn’t have them…)  Practical, sensible, logical, and just a little whimsical.  What’s not to love?  Amelia’s collection included skirts, dresses, pants, and suits- but apparently no aviator jackets.   She also licensed the designs as sewing patterns which featured in Women’s Home Companion- has anyone out there played with one of her patterns?

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Sadly, her clothing line failed.  She wanted to price her clothes less expensively then other designers’, but the price point was still too high in the Depression.  As far as I can tell without digging in old warehouses or attics, not man of her dresses remain.  At least we have copious images of this fascinating and elusive pilot from the 30’s:

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Softly feminine, and truly timeless.  You could place this picture at almost any point in the 20th century.

Skinny-leg pants!  Knee boots!  Looooong leather jacket.  The pants look like they could be jodhpurs, with plenty of room through the thigh to allow for ease of movement.

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I wish I could see this outfit better!  To me, it looks like she’s wearing wide-legged trousers with sailor button detail, a soft short jacket and a blouse with some kind of softly ruffled collar.  I like how she wears this outfit- comfortable, effortless, but still quite stylish.

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Click for source- Amelia going to Ascot

Both of these pictures apparently show Amelia all dressed up for Ascot in 1928.  I’m not sure which one was mis-labeled, but they both show that when necessary, she cut a glamorous figure in a fashionable dress.

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And of course, that makes the images of her in practical clothes so much more compelling… I like this shot of her signing autographs in a rowboat on a chilly day.  Where is her hat?

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This is just so cool it looks to me like a modern fashion advertisement… Her stance, the pleated jumpsuit open to the waist, the smile, and the HUGE airplane behind her.  Very cool, Amelia.

If you’re interested, I found a pictorial timeline of her life here, and a cute blog post about how to borrow some of Amelia Earhart’s style for your own wardrobe.

Work on the latest Hack is moving along well, though I’m not sure I achieved the garment I set out to make.  I’ll play with her some more tomorrow, and I’ll have more to say about handling polar fleece in the near future (I’ve been taking notes!).  I feel like I’ve been slacking off writing sewing how-to’s lately, but there’s plenty in the works!

Which Earhart look do you like the best?  Loose, comfy dresses?  Skinny leg pants and tunic top?  Glamorous celebrity?  Relaxed, loose pants?


    • And she’s so versatile. I guess it’s really easy to think of people as 1-dimensional figures, but Amelia definitely lived life in 3D….

  1. Thanks for posting and compiling this. I didn’t know she had a fashion line either. Interestingly, many of her pieces are timeless. I like the knee boots, slim pants and leather jacket. Great style!

    • I know… So many of the outfits she was photographed wearing would work perfectly nowadays, or really almost any decade between when the photos were taken and now. That’s a gift, who else could do that?

  2. I wouldn’t be worried about slacking off…I found this post absolutely fascinating. I had absolutely no idea about Amelia’s fashion line, and totally love her ethos. A very, very modern woman, I think.

  3. So cool! I’ve always admired her spirit and her style– I have a cream-colored aviatrix-type scarf that I bought years ago as a nod to her! So fun to see her clothing line!

    • Don’t you just love the word aviatrix? I know I’m supposed to be a feminist and gendered terms are supposed to be sexist, but I like them… I bet that scarf is WAY cute. :)

  4. I knew she was an interesting woman, but I had no idea about her fashion line. I think she was ahead of her time. So many of the garments she wore could be worn today and the shot of her in skinny pants, boots and leather jacket is very similar to an outfit I wore just last weekend. Imagine what she could have achieved if she’d lived? She would have been such an inspiration to so many women in the post war era.

  5. The Royal Ascot horse races last a week, so it’s probable that both photographs are correctly dated. One would not appear twice in the same outfit!
    She has such a perfect body shape for flapper attire: long, slim and leggy. Thanks for sharing these finds with us.

  6. I never knew Amelia was a seamstress/fashion designer. How interesting – just make me like her more. As a side note, my cat’s name is Amelia Earhart – and this must explain why her very favorite place in the house to lounge is right behind my sewing machine (or on top of whatever fabric I am cutting at that moment, of course) :)

  7. This is so fascinating! I had no idea that she had her own line of clothing or that she liked to sew – I am totally amazed! I would be very curious to see if any of her patterns are still around, or if we see any reproductions pop up while the search on the Discovery Channel is being featured. The dress with the cut out back is my favorite – very classic!

  8. This is one of my all time favourite posts of yours LOL. Why has Amelia flown under my radar for so long? I think I’ve found myself a new hero thanks to you.

  9. She was my hero growing up – I read anything I could get my hands on about her and also drew airplanes incessantly! I wanted to be a brave explorer when I grew up. I do a little exploring here and there – nothing like she did, but I probably sew as much! Thanks for this post and those beautiful photographs of her!

  10. Great post! I really like her label, with the red plane streaking across her signature. She had a great innovative style that people could totally pull off today. What an interesting woman.

  11. Pingback: Happy Birthday, Amelia Earhart (Or- The Times They Are A-Changin’) « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

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